A taste of the wild | Sunday Observer

A taste of the wild

28 July, 2019
A man plucks Miyana and Alakola on the banks of a stream near Kalu Ganga in the outskirts of Ingiriya
A man plucks Miyana and Alakola on the banks of a stream near Kalu Ganga in the outskirts of Ingiriya

Ratnapura is known for its traditional cuisine among the village folk that dates back to many centuries. Any heavenly curry, a delicacy of Sabaragamuwa cuisine is called Maaluwa in the sprawling Sabaragamuwa Province. Sabaragamuwa is a Province with constant rain and valley filled wetlands and water meadows surrounded by the meandering Kalu Ganga. Hence, a traditional food style has been created in this region as people see more green around them and would consume these green leaves in various flavours.

When people began to start eating junk food, they gave up consuming these fresh green leaves. However, since chemical free food is being popularised globally the secret of these green leaves are being recognised now.

I had a strong desire to discover the healthy curry dishes prepared with wild green leaves growing abundantly around Ratnapura. When we were little boys, we had these tasty dishes, which suddenly disappeared but are now seen at wayside stalls around Ratnapura.

Recently, I bought a bunch of miyana or miyanadalu from Ranthosa, an elderly green leaf seller, who sells ferns such as, miyana, barukoku and alakola in my village near Ratnapura. “These are good herbal medicinal leaves for people with many ailments,” says Ranthosa.

These edible and succulent wild greens are found in abundance in the meadows, and the fallow fields in the wetland area. They have been traditionally prized as health foods. Their organic growth, free of agro chemicals has added to their natural flavour and value.

While they are staples in the diet of the rural folk, the city dwellers now snap them up at markets and fairs. Being wild which needs gathering rather than tending, they are always cheaper than garden produce.

Many of the leafy vegetables which make appetizing accompaniments for rice thrive in fallow lands and meadows. These greens are always gathered from the wild rather than grown.

Miyana (Acrostichumesculentum) a bushy herbal fern which grows profusely in the watery meadows, wetlands and the banks of streams, makes an appetizing dish stir fried with onions red chili, mustard and tomatoes or tamarind to give it a sour taste.

Miyana also makes a delicious mild curry, with basic additives such as, green chilli, shredded maldive fish, red onions, garlic, curry powder and a pinch of salt, and cooked in coconut milk. Miyana is highly rated as a medicinal herb.

The miyana plant mostly grows on the banks of the Kalu Ganga and its tributaries. It has been disappearing due to the collecting of alluvial soils from gem-pits on the banks of the Kalu Ganga. But it is still found in abundance in areas such as Kahangama, Kiriella, Idangoda and Ingiriya.

An interesting legend has it that King Sri Wickrama Rajasingha gifted a ‘Dumbara Keeragama’, 8,305 acres of land in extent to the historic Nadun Raja MahaViharaya at Kiriella to pluck a bunch of miyana for the temple, every day. This shows how this small plant was strongly interlaced with the life of the rural folk.

If you travel along the Ratnapura-Panadura highway from Ingiriya to Ratnapura, you often come across villagers selling miyana in makeshift wayside stalls, with a bunch priced at Rs.60.

Perhaps, the most prized of the wild, tender fleshy stems is barukoku (Blechnumorientale), often available at wayside greengrocers. The tender leaf fronds furling, are excellent stir-fried or as a curry.

It grows not only around Ratnapura but elsewhere in the country, especially, on the mountain slopes of rubber estates. People consume this fern bud cooked like the miyana maaluwa. Traditionally, the tender stems are first boiled in water and then cooked. It is also of strong medicinal value, especially for those suffering from bone and cartilage damage.

I met a greengrocer Sumithra who sells green leaves at the Ratnapura market. Regular customers patronise her stall containing a variety of green leaves and indigenous yams.

“I sell only herbal green leaves with medicinal value. Now, most of my customers buy barukoku because it is best for bone and cartilage ailments,” says Sumithra.

Jayapala, another greengrocer at a wayside boutique near Idangoda, who sells barukoku says, “We gather them from rubber estates for which there is a good demand now, as miyana is not available due to the floods along the Kalu Ganga.”

Alakola (Colocasiaesculenta), another herb is a tender bud from wild plants, mostly growing near rivers, streams, paddy fields and marshy lands in Ratnapura. It is also prepared similar to the miyana maaluwa. Traditionally the tender bud is wrapped with a thread and dried in the sun. When it is well dried it is cooked with the knot, garnished with maldive fish, garlic, green chili, turmeric and red onion.

All these stories tell us that a new trend is being created around the country to give value to green leaves. The re-emergence of miyana, barukoku and alakola at wayside stalls is ample testimony. Culinary experts must step in to prepare tasty dishes with these humble leaves and serve us these foods in novel and exciting ways.